Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Praying for health

When I learned last week that a friend, who is also a colleague I admire, is having major surgery today, I included this sentence in the note I sent him: "Although I don't literally "pray," the phrase "you will be in my prayers feels true - and you will be next Tuesday."

He wrote back: "Technically, I do not "pray" either. However, I find that I have a strong faith in universal purpose, the importance of helping others, and that one's contributions profoundly matter in some way."

By chance on the same day I sent my email, another colleague wrote to me this way about our shared interest and pleasure in Vermont, where I am now: "We are so blessed living in New England!"

What's going on with non-praying prayers, universal purpose, and blessedness?

My love of religious language is not rooted in a theology. When I'm forced to explicate my religious position I define myself as "a religiously minded Jewish atheist." As an atheist, I don't participate in a congregation or community that calls itself religious. But here I was, on the same day, telling my friend that he would be in my prayers, hearing back from him about universal purpose, and hearing from another friend and colleague that we were blessed.

I do feel blessed to be part of a set of overlapping communities committed to health and health care - clinicians, researchers, and folks involved with health care ethics. An anthropologist studying us would say that these communities are like religious communities in (1) sharing values and (2) regularly talking about ("professing") those values while (3) maintaining recurrent, long term contact with each other. For me, and for folks like the two colleagues I exchanged messages with, these moral communities have the same valence that an organized religion can have for someone for whom the religion as a living experience, not a dutiful routine.

Referring to "prayer," "blessedness" and "universal purpose" uses terms that have been developed in the context of religious commitment and theological belief to affirm and reinforce the commitment that my friends/colleagues share. The religious terms carry a distinctive weight. They help to convey that health care can be a "vocation" and "calling," not a job.

I haven't been down on my knees today, but my friend is definitely in my prayers!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

It was not seen as a common or realistic part of therapy in traditional medication. Healthcare educational institutions are now trying to do a better job training upcoming physicians to take into consideration a person's race and social connections when talking about care and treatments. This does not mean that prayer itself is trained as a therapy method. Rather, it is more likely that many physicians may still feel quite shy when nearing sufferers about concerns of spiritual techniques and prayer.